Whether it’s for safeguarding your digital work, moving to a new hosting provider, or putting together a uniform design for your projects, knowing how to clone a website is a skill worth learning.
I’ve gone through this process myself, discovering tools that make cloning straightforward and accessible, even if you’re not a tech wizard. Along the way, I’ve also learned the importance of navigating the ethical aspects of cloning content, designs, and so on.
In this article, I’ll share four legal and ethical approaches to cloning a WordPress site, tailored for those who want to replicate their own sites or draw inspiration from someone else’s without overstepping legal boundaries.
We’ll look at user-friendly tools that empower you to clone a website’s content and design, ensuring you can confidently manage the process, regardless of your technical background.
While we dive deep into these methods, we’ll also touch on the crucial topic of copyright and originality. Cloning a website is not about copying—it’s about leveraging existing frameworks to create something new and distinctly yours.
Join me in exploring how to responsibly harness these tools for your creative and professional growth.
Understanding How to Clone a Website
Why You Might Need It
Website cloning isn’t just about making a direct copy of your existing site—it’s a strategic step that could serve a variety of purposes.
Whether you’re looking to create a testing ground for new features, safeguard your site before major updates, or set up a similar site under a different domain, cloning can be your go-to solution.
It offers the benefit of time efficiency, risk mitigation, and consistency across your web projects, ensuring that your online presence remains robust and adaptable.
The Legal and Ethical Considerations
Before diving into the technicalities, it’s crucial to discuss the legal and ethical aspects of website cloning.
Cloning your own website is perfectly legal; however, when it comes to replicating elements from other websites, the waters can get murky.
It’s essential to understand copyright laws and ensure that you’re not infringing on someone else’s intellectual property. Use cloning as a means to draw inspiration or to learn, not to plagiarize.
Remember, the goal is to use the structure and style as a foundation upon which you can build and innovate with your own unique content.
Prep-Work Before You Start Cloning
Back Up Your Work
I say this having experienced the consequences of not doing so… The first step in any cloning process is to ensure that you have a complete backup of your existing website.
This is a safety net that allows you to restore your site to its original state in case anything goes wrong during the cloning process. There are several plugins and services that can help you with this. My top recommendation that we’ve been using at WP Mayor for a number of years is BlogVault.
Always verify that your backup includes all website files, databases, and additional components like email accounts and SSL certificates, when and if needed. Speaking with your developer or hosting provider before going any further would be a wise choice at this stage.
Choose the Best Tool for You
With a variety of tools available, choosing the right one for cloning your website can be difficult.
The key is to match the tool to your specific needs and technical comfort level. In this guide, I’ll introduce you to a range of options that I’ve found, from fully automated services that do all the heavy lifting to manual methods that give you more control over the cloning process.
I’ll help you understand the nuances of each tool, including ease of use, cost, and the scenarios they’re best suited for, setting you up for a successful cloning experience.
Tool 1: Automated Cloning
Automated cloning services are fantastic for those who prefer a hands-off approach.
They’re ideal for non-technical users or those who need to clone a website quickly without delving into the nitty-gritty details of how it all works behind the scenes.
This process comes in handy for staging purposes, such as when you’re developing a site in a local environment and want to move it to a live server, or the other way around.
Step-by-Step Guide to Automated Cloning Services
The first step to consider is to backup your site. It’s extremely important not to skip this step, just in case anything out of your control happens while you’re cloning the site. Since you’ll be using third-party plugins, you’re better playing it safe.
Once you’ve got your backup done, you can go ahead and duplicate, or clone your website.
In this example, I’m using the Duplicator Pro plugin which I have some hands-on experience with myself. Here’s how it works:
- Download and install the Duplicate Pro plugin on your WordPress site.
- Go to the new Duplicator Pro page in your WordPress dashboard.
- Start the cloning process. This will create a package that bundles all your site’s plugins, themes, content, database, and WordPress files into a zip file.
- Lastly, go to the second site and import the package using the file or link methods.
It’s a relatively simple process that you can use on any site where you have the ability to install a new plugin. That being said, it does have its potential down-sides. Let’s take a look at the main pros and cons for this method.
|User-friendly with minimal technical knowledge required.||Can be cost-prohibitive as many are premium services.|
|Quick and efficient, saving time and effort.||Limited control over the cloning details.|
|Most services offer additional features like scheduled backups.||Dependence on a third-party service for your site’s migration.|
Duplicator offers a highly-rated free version with over 4,000 5-star reviews, but that doesn’t include the importing functionality – only backups.
To perform a full cloning migration, you need the premium version called Duplicator Pro, which starts at $49. Keep in mind that it renews at $99 from year two (which isn’t so clear on their site, listed as “introductory pricing”), but if you only need it once, you can cancel your subscription right after making your initial purchase.
Tool 2: Converting a Website to Blocks
There are quite a few reasons to want to clone a website and convert it to a WordPress theme. Let’s take a look at a few:
- You’ve created a website using a particular page builder and want to convert it to the WordPress block editor.
- You might have created your original website using another platform, like Squarespace or Wix, and want to finally move your site to WordPress.
If you’re in any of these situations, you might feel like you’ve been locked into your original decision. To address this pain point, I discover the Nelio Unlocker tool.
This plugin lets you input any post, page, or URL and convert it into the WordPress block editor (aka Gutenberg). The original website need not even be a WordPress website. Nelio Unlocker transforms any existing page on your website into a block-compatible format, and it’s quite accurate.
The generated page will contain the content and layout of the original. While it won’t be a 100% accurate clone of your website, it will certainly be close to 95% done. All you need to do then is tweak that remaining 5%, as we’ve shown through our in-depth Nelio Unlocker review.
Step-by-Step Guide to Clone a Website to a Theme
Once again, the first step to consider is to back up your website. There’s no going around this step, you should always make it your number on priority.
With the backup completed, it’s time to get to work:
- Download and install the Nelio Unlocker plugin on your WordPress site.
- Go to Tools > Nelio Unlocker in your WordPress dashboard.
- Select your Source and Target content, which is where it’s to be copied from and to.
- Click on “Convert Now” and let it do its thing.
It really is that simple. Take a look at the migration we ran as part of our review below. The cloned website has some small differences from the original, but it’s nothing that can’t be tweaked in a few clicks.
As always, there are pros and cons to using this method of cloning a website from one tool to another, so let’s take a look at the most important ones for you to consider.
|It simplifies the process of converting designs into blocks with no technical knowledge.||While the conversion is mostly accurate, some minor tweaks are usually needed.|
|Conversions are fast, often taking less than ten seconds per page.||Conversions from non-WordPress platforms like Squarespace may require more adjustments.|
|At $3 per page, it is competitively priced, potentially saving significant time and effort.|
As I mentioned above, there is a price for converting each individual page, but the plugin itself is free to download. At $3 per page, it’s a lot cheaper than hiring a designer to rebuild your site in blocks and requires much less time than doing it manually yourself.
Tool 3: Manual Website Cloning via FTP
Not exactly a tool in itself in this case. To manually clone a website is the process of manually copying files and databases from one host to another.
This method is mostly suitable for those who want the ultimate control over every aspect of their site’s cloning. Although it helps to provide you with a deep understanding of how WordPress sites are structured, it’s not for the faint-hearted among us.
This is typically done via FTP, using tools such as FileZilla.
To quickly summarize what it does, Filezilla is one of the most popular FTP (File Transfer Protocol) clients, which is widely used for transferring files between a local computer and a server on the internet.
As a non-developer, I use this method myself from time to time and find it quite simple to understand, but I haven’t performing a full site cloning using this method. That’s on another level.
Step-by-Step Guide to Manual Cloning via FTP
This time there’s no way you can avoid step one – back up your complete website, database and all. You never know what can happen when messing around in the actual files and folders of your lovely existing website.
With that out of the way and double-checked, the process can be somewhat simplified into the following steps:
- Manually copy all WordPress files from your site via FTP.
- Export your site’s database using a tool like phpMyAdmin.
- Upload the files to the new server and create a new database.
- Import your database and configure the
wp-config.phpfile to connect to the new database.
Okay, that’s probably a bit over-simplified, but I’m assuming that if you’re going to use this method, you’re well aware of how these things work, so I won’t go any deeper.
An Easier Solution for Agencies
As with most things in this day and age, there are simpler methods available for some of you out there. So long as you’re using a solid hosting provider for the existing website, you can opt to use their cloning tools for staging purposes, domain changes, or even complete migrations.
One of my best recommendations, especially for agencies who do this more regularly, is to work with BionicWP. This robust service is engineered by agency owners to make the process streamlined, effective, and straightforward. One-click is all it takes to get the process started.
Whether you’re creating a clone of your site for testing, moving to a fresh domain, or migrating to a different server, BionicWP can manage it all for you. It ensures that every aspect of your website, from the aesthetic layout to the underlying database, is precisely mirrored.
Choosing a host that has the tools to truly manage your WordPress real estate not only conserves your precious time but also reduces the potential for errors that could compromise your website’s operation.
Tool 4: Clone A Website From Scratch
This option is targeted mostly at those who want to “clone” someone else’s design, in the sense of taking inspiration from their work to build their own custom website.
Although technically not a “tool” per se, you can do this by hiring a WordPress agency to do the work for you. By working with a reliable company such as WP Riders, who I’ve personally hired to build some of our sites in the past, it could also be a cost-effective solution in the long-run.
If your site is complex or you have very specific requirements, I’d recommend getting in touch with Codeable and hiring an expert developer, but keep in mind that it could get expensive fast.
Lastly, if you’re building an eCommerce site and have a decent budget to do it with, you should be speaking with the amazing team at Saucal. These guys know WooCommerce inside out, creating some of the most amazing eCommerce sites you’ll see.
Alternatively, Do It Yourself
This is an alternative which requires more time and effort, but if you’ve got enough of both of those, there are the tools to make it work. Let’s take a look at the top recommendations right now.
Elementor is one of the best site builders out there at the moment. With its easy-to-use interface, you can create and design websites of all types, regardless of your coding knowledge.
Both myself and fellow colleagues have built sites using Elementor, from simple blogs to high-performing eCommerce sites, and we’ve always found it simple to learn and build upon (pardon the pun).
If you want to jumpstart your designing process even further, Elementor provides you with pre-designed templates in both the free and premium versions. You can find one that’s similar to your goal and adapt it from there.
One of the popular alternatives in the site builder world is Beaver Builder. With no coding required, Beaver Builder also lets you choose from pre-made templates and modules that you can use anywhere on your website.
We created a tutorial showing you how to create a WordPress landing page using Beaver Builder.
Bonus: Clone Your Blog Posts
Sometimes you might just need to copy a website’s content from one site to another, either partially or in full, rather than the full site. You might even want to do this for staging sites to keep your content in sync as you design the new site.
If that’s the case, the simplest solution is to rely on WordPress’ built-in RSS functionality. Yes, that “old tech” is still as powerful as it was ten years ago, and it’s still your best best.
After Cloning – The Next Steps
Test, Test, Test
Once your site is cloned, it’s imperative to test it thoroughly.
Check all your pages, links, and functionalities to ensure everything works as expected. Use tools like Broken Link Checker to ensure there are no dead links and check in on your WordPress Site Health.
Cloning is only the beginning. Next, make the site truly yours by customizing your design, updating content, and tweaking things to make it unique. This step is where you can infuse your brand’s personality into the cloned site.
Regular maintenance is key to a healthy website. Schedule regular backups, updates, and security checks to keep your cloned site in top shape. Check out our WordPress security guides to educate yourself for the future.
It’s not all going to go as smoothly as you’d hope. Things rarely work that way, so here are a few troubleshooting tips to help you work out the kinks.
File Permissions: Incorrect file permissions can lead to security vulnerabilities or prevent the site from functioning correctly. Learn how to correctly set up file permissions in WordPress.
Database Connections: Ensure the
wp-config.php file has the correct database information to avoid connection issues. Check out the advanced guide to the wp-config.php file.
Answering Reader’s Questions
A staging site is your answer. Every hosting provider that is worth your money will provide you with free staging sites that you can use for testing, building, and so on. Our recommendations at WP Mayor are WP Engine for small to mid-sized websites and BionicWP for agencies with multiple sites.
Yes, you can transfer a WordPress site to another using a number of methods. Tools 1, 2, and 3 that I mentioned here will help you do exactly that, either in an automated or manual way, depending on how involved you want to be throughout the process.
Although this isn’t legal advice, website cloning in general is legal and can be done in an ethical way, particularly when it’s for personal use or other non-commercial reasons. However, cloning a website could potentially infringe upon the original owner’s copyrights, trademarks, intellectual property, or patents. Under these circumstances, the act of cloning a website may cross legal boundaries, so always run your checks and get legal advice where possible.
Choosing the right cloning method depends on your needs, technical ability, and the scope of your project.
Reflect on what you aim to achieve with cloning and select the tool that aligns with your objectives.
And remember, whether you opt for an automated service, a plugin, or a manual process, each method has its unique benefits and challenges. Consider them all and backup your site before you get started.